Is it your parents telling you that you may be pick-pocketed, scammed or raped during your trip? Is it your friends who worry because you may end up being bored and alone on that restaurant during dinner? Or is it that tiny voice inside your head that tells you that you just can’t do it?
Screw all those noises. If even for the slightest moment you had that inkling that made you want to cross off travelling solo from your bucket list, then you might as well do it. In the future, you might regret not having done it when you were at the prime of your youth.
Don’t be afraid to feel alone because you never will be. Hostels are the perfect locations to meet fellow travelers who want to see the destinations you also went there for. In fact, you meet people from different cultures who will teach you so much about the world that you feel like such a tiny speck in the greater scheme of things. It’s humbling.
Don’t be afraid to do your own thing. Plan or no plan? Who cares, it’s yours to take. Embarrassing selfie with that monopod on the beach or asking someone else to take your photo? Girl, just get it over with. No one can tell you that what you’re doing is right or wrong because you are there for yourself and no one else.
Don’t be afraid to let people get to know who you are. I get it – Filipinos are generally shy, but you don’t have to be. It’s when we get into the most vulnerable and uncomfortable situations that we learn more about ourselves… Which types of people we want to be with, which situations make us stronger and what exactly we want to go for. Cheesy, but true.
As much as I hated Filipino locals feeling sorry for me for having gone solo, there was a satisfaction for showing them that I could find my happiness by myself. It was like telling them that European ladies are not the only ones with guts to explore the world around them… Pinays are capable of doing it, as well. We are explorers of our own light.
So the next time that Piso Fare or travel fair rolls out and you have no one to tag along, just book the trip for yourself. Nevermind what others think and how doubtful you feel; it’s all part of the awesome process of solo travelling.
“I get out of the taxi and it’s probably the only city which in reality looks better than on the postcards, New York.” – Milos Forman
It’s been two weeks since I came home from my trip to New York and I can still smell the drifting bittersweet scent of the air as if I just stepped out of JFK. This might be an extreme case of nostalgia or possibly my head playing with me because of the smell of souvenir postcards and tickets on my bedside table. Be it as it may, New York City is terribly stuck in my system no matter how hard I have tried to flush it out. There were nights that I woke up at midnight, thinking I was still in Manhattan and mentally planning what neighborhood to explore for the day.
Contrary to popular belief, New York City is not picture-perfect and is a far cry from the cookie-cutter image most people have of a metropolis. While postcard images would portray immaculate views of skyscrapers, bridges and rivers and print the overly-used I ❤ NY sign, the city is anything but perfect; and yet, its charm lies in exactly that. Dirty, loud, in-your-face and restless. Despite all its imperfections, I would turn back time to relive experiencing the city all over again. That is how much I miss it.
I remember having my fair share of lost tourist moments while traveling. I blame most of them to confusing Subway lines and inconvenient travel apps, but also partly due to the overenthusiastic and assuming traveler in me. These experiences made me either laugh hysterically or blare out seemingly unending curses; but they, without a doubt, taught me a ton about keeping up with the pace of New York. In truth, the city is quite easy to navigate and figure out especially to those who come prepared. There are tons of websites with helpful and up-to-date information, but I highly recommend nycgo.com because their content changes depending on the season and they talk about everything from A-Z about NYC. Having left my heart somewhere in Manhattan, I figured I might as well put this emotional roller coaster to good use and come up with a traveler’s guide (all based on my personal experiences) to keep one from looking like a lost puppy in the middle of the Big Apple. Because believe me, you don’t want to be one of those tourists with selfie sticks blocking the sidewalk with locals glaring at you in the worst possible way.
New York is home to a myriad of attractions for everyone from ages 9 to 99. It’s just a matter of knowing which ones you want to see and experience for yourself. I do not care how many times I say this but if you want to go all the way in terms of experiencing the touristy side of the city, buy yourself a New York Pass and save a ton of money. You’ll understand just how in love I am with this card in The New York Pass is a Tourist’s Treasure.
Not too keen on spending a buck? Not to worry because as expensive as New York can get, there are places of interest that you can enjoy absolutely for free. From having a picnic and sunbathing in lush green parks in the middle of the concrete jungle, crossing iconic bridges, riding a ferry to get a priceless view of Lady Liberty, watching the sun slowly set and cast shadows on the Hudson and even to sneaking in art museums without paying for anything. All of these are possible and if you know where and when to go. Lucky for you, I have a list of Must-See New York Attractions for FREE.
For those who do not know, New York City is made up of 5 different boroughs — Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. In total, it covers an area of approximately 790 km2 (305 square miles) of both land and water; so you can only imagine how much space there is to discover and explore that it is impossible to run out of things to do. Manhattan, alone, houses 26 neighborhoods, each one with a personality of its own and ready to show you exactly why they’re the best in town. I was lucky enough to visit 17 of these and can honestly say that I had an exciting and interesting encounter in every single one of them that I cannot play favorites.
My advice: Spend one full day walking around the streets of New York and observe how a single street seems to act as a border dividing two distinct countries. You’ll be amazed at how concrete pavements in the Financial District will suddenly become cobblestone streets in TriBeCa or see buildings transform from towering skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan into ones with historic brick facades in the Meatpacking District. It will be tiring and hot or cold depending on the weather conditions but will be worth the trek. I’ve listed New York Neighborhoods that you absolutely cannot miss in your trip. I regret not being able to explore Williamsburg, Harlem, the Bronx and Queens but as they say, there’s always a reason to come back!
***I didn’t list any accommodations because I stayed with friends who live in Manhattan. If you’re as lucky as I am, it’s best to stay with family or friends living in the city because not only will you save up on accommodations but also experience living like a local first-hand. Otherwise, go for cheap lodging found in either agoda.com or airbnb.com. Better yet, why not try couchsurfing.com for a totally unique experience; stay with a local without spending a dime and make new friends you’ll have for a lifetime (Damn, that rhymes!). Bottomline: It’s a win-win situation.
Arts & Entertainment
If you’re looking for the best in arts & entertainment, then New York City is the place for you! It is teeming with shows left and right, with Broadway being the tip of the iceberg. Scoring cheap Broadway tickets is possible all thanks to TKTS, with 3 ticket booth locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. As fun as it may seem to wait in line for 30-45 minutes in the Times Square location of TKTS, why not head on over to South Street Seaport for faster transactions? The discounts are the same but the waiting time is only 3 minutes maximum because everyone else has flocked to Times Square. If you want something cheaper than a 50% discount, the magic words are lottery tickets. I have never attempted to win these but I know friends who have been lucky at it; so if you have the time and patience, visit the theater of your show of choice and inquire of their system for giving away these prized tickets.
Always wanted to find yourself on American national television? It is now possible all thanks to the several TV shows that tape right in the heart of the city. nycgo.com briefly explains how to get passes to some of these in their TV Show Tapings post. It is generally easy to attend morning show tapings as they are usually open to the public but late night TV can be the exact opposite. My friends and I tried to snag May tickets to The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, following all instructions listed in their website and Twitter account; but after only 8 minutes of being on the online queue for May show passes, we were informed that all tickets were sold out. Unbelievable, right? On the bright side, I’ve read success stories and tales of people who lined up as early as 6:00AM and were granted passes for tapings of the same day. If you’re into that kind of thing, then by all means go for it but make sure to set your expectations straight and to manage your time well.
If you don’t exactly want to budget anything for arts & entertainment, that shouldn’t be a problem. Not even in New York City. When you’re publicly commuting using the subway, you’ll encounter at least 3 street artists performing their hearts out; and they’re not half-bad… Probably even better than those hotshot singers who get paid millions just because of their looks. Central Park and Washington Square Park would be the hub for most street artists because that’s where the most tourists are. If you do find yourself watching a performance, be kind enough to give a dollar or two, or more if you’re feeling generous. For music lovers, I highly recommend paying a visit to Bethesda Terrace in Central Park. The acoustics are out-of-this-world that musicians battle for a spot to perform their pieces live in this beautiful space. Hearing their masterpieces is enough to literally make you cry.
One can’t visit New York and not talk about food. Being a melting pot of cultures from all over the globe has turned it into the home of varied cuisines as inspired by generations of the best cooks from the entire world. There will be days that you will be standing in one intersection and finding yourself choosing among Chinese, Italian, Halal and American restaurants or food stalls. Being Filipino, I wasn’t expecting to find any of my local dishes being served in the city but was pleasantly surprised to find out that Filipino food is slowly making a mark in the New York foodie scene. What was amusing was telling locals we’ve met that my friends and I were from the Philippines, and they would enthusiastically reply ‘We love lumpia (Filipino-style egg rolls)!’. So yes, it is highly possible to find any dish you are craving for when you visit the Big Apple. You can check out my favorite New York Eats to get a little help if you’re still unsure as to which good but relatively cheap grub places to hit during your trip.
I have a love-hate relationship with the New York subway. So much so that it deserves a blog post of its own. I will work on that soon enough and will link it to this post once done.
In a nutshell…
Whether you call yourself a traveler or a tourist, my best advice for exploring New York City to the fullest is to just go for it. I’m positive you saved a lot of money for a long period of time to finally book that trip to city, so why hold back? Between going big or going home, choose to go big. Go to every tourist attraction your legs can take you because you might not have the energy to do so on your next visit. Eat as much as you can despite your pants screaming and telling you to stop because the burger in your local fast food restaurant can never compete against the Shack Stack of Shake Shack. Go out on a date with a local no matter how tired you are because he/she will tell you a secret about the city that no one else will ever know but you two. Get lost even after using Google Maps because you never know what you may find at that wrong turn of a corner; but then don’t freak out too much if a homeless guy ends up following you, asking for money or food. Shop for postcards like there’s no tomorrow and send them to the ones you love, telling them stories of how frustrated yet high you feel just being in New York City. And finally, allow yourself to cry when you board that plane heading back home because you never know when you’ll be back or if you’ll even get the chance to visit the city again.
I fell in love with New York City because it is so rich and intense. Even though it was my third time to visit, there were moments I found myself feeling overwhelmed and awestruck as if I’ve only seen the Empire State Building for the first time. And yet, with all the positive and giddy feelings I felt inside, I also ended up hating the place with a passion. The dirt and stench of some subway stations were enough to make me shudder and retch; and that is saying a lot given that I grew up in Manila. Some locals can be so crass and will give you flak despite politely asking them to give you change for $100 (I’m looking at you, female subway clerk in Penn Station!) . But it is what it is; you can never fully experience, appreciate and understand a destination without seeing both the good and the bad in it. You either take it all in or allow it to swallow you whole.
I love my souvenir postcards because they will always remind me of beauty and perfection of the city, but if you ask me, I’d still go for the real thing. That is, everything beyond postcard New York City.
I am a tourist (Yes, I am proud to be one!) who loves to maximize her trips. Meaning, I try to squeeze in doing a lot of touristy things into a short amount of time and avoiding the trap of spending too much money. When my trip to New York was finally set and game, I knew I had to make the most out of it because God only knows when I’d get to visit the city again with the exact same ball of energy and enthusiasm that I had. Having been there twice prior, the destination wasn’t exactly ‘new’ to me; but since I was traveling with a friend who was visiting for the first time, I wanted to see it with a fresh perspective, as well. And given that it was New York City where things change faster than a New York minute and structures pop out of nowhere right before your eyes, there was surely something new to see, experience and breathe in. Luckily, another friend suggested we purchase the New York Pass to milk as much of the city as we could. And three weeks after using our passes, we still believe purchasing them was one of the best travel decisions we ever made!
The New York Pass is a card that allows tourists, like you and me, to visit New York attractions for free(-ish). Depending on the trip duration, you can enjoy as many as 80 locations and experiences that are certified top must-see and do attractions by New Yorkers, themselves. Instead of having to pay for each attraction, all you need to do is present the card to have it swiped and Tadah! you’re all set to go.
Who is the New York Pass for?
The New York Pass is specifically designed for those who want to experience the city at its fullest and pay the least amount of money for it. In layman’s terms, it’s for tourists who want to eat up New York City as if it were served in a buffet restaurant. If you think you’re up for that, there is a catch, though. The thing is, you have to be willing and able to explore at least 87.46 km² of land area to maximize the card at a limited amount of time; and that’s just Manhattan, alone. So yes, using the New York Pass can be definitely tiring but worth it if your itinerary if planned strategically and efficiently.
So you mentioned the word ‘itinerary’. What was yours? Can I have it?
What’s the purpose of doing a pro-bono promotion of the New York Pass if I don’t share my itinerary, right? So here is my 3-Day New York Pass Itinerary. For 3 days and an initial New York Pass card fee of approximately USD150.00 (depending if you get it on sale/promo code or not), you can visit 13 attractions and save at least USD228.00! Now isn’t that a steal? You ended up saving more than you spent! Make sure to read on the Pink Backpack Top Tip column to maximize your visit to each location.
General New York Pass Top Tips:
1. To get the promo code prior to purchasing your card, it helps to visit the New York Pass official website for a week at the very least. That way, the ads that will frequent your internet browser will default to the promo code. Instead of paying USD180.00 for a 3-day pass, my friends and I only paid USD150.00 for each of our passes. Timing is the key! For additional savings, claim the passes, yourself, once you arrive in New York City; that way, you won’t have to pay for shipping fees.
2. Skip the Hop-on, Hop-off Bus and use the subway instead! Purchase a 7-day Unlimited MTA Card for USD31.00 and familiarize yourself with the public transportation. It is not for the faint of heart but it not only saves you money but time spent stuck in traffic, as well. Besides, the New York subway is an attraction in itself that you cannot miss.
3. Always bring a bottle of water with you. New York is a walkers’ paradise (And no, I am not referring to zombies). Walking can get pretty draining especially in the heat of the afternoon so it helps to always stay hydrated. Water bottles are generally allowed in most attractions unless otherwise stated. Additionally, New York might be dirty on the outside but it is known to provide one of the cleanest drinking waters straight from the tap. That way, refilling your bottles won’t be a problem!
4. Be wary of time spent per attraction. It’s easy to get swept away by the stunning sight of Lady Liberty or to find yourself lost in the numerous exhibits in the Natural History Museum, but that means less time in other locations. Budget and track your time well and don’t forget to allot time for meals and breaks, too!
5. If you intend to make your own itinerary, plan attractions that are located within a close proximity to each other. Manhattan is big enough as it is and you wouldn’t want to jump from Downtown to Uptown and back to Downtown in a single day. Google Maps will definitely be your new best friend.
6. I didn’t include attractions like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in my itinerary since I was able to visit those museums without spending too much money. You can visit MoMA on Uniqlo Free Fridays (4-8PM) and get in the museum absolutely free! Just prepare to face the big crowds of art fans. As for The Met, you can pay for as little as a dollar since the museum only requests a ‘suggested donation’ of USD25.00. Research on other similar attractions that you can get in for free so that you won’t have to include it in your busy New York Pass itinerary.
So, there you have it! If I haven’t convinced you enough about how amazing the New York Pass is, just visit the official website, read the reviews and get excited yourself. It’s the best gift you can give yourself and an awesome way to bond with your family and friends (That is, while getting awestruck and frightened by New York City).
Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 has consistently made it to lists of worldwide acclaim… For being one of the absolute worst, that is. From damaged and irreparable building fixtures, leaking toilet facilities, long and inconvenient lines to rude and unhelpful airport and airline staff; well, you get the picture. Because of all the bad reputation that the terminal has been receiving, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) decided to finally give it the long-overdue renovation that it desperately needed.
Like most Filipino international travelers, I was looking forward to seeing the changes myself as the last time I used the terminal was in 2011 when it took more than an hour before my luggage was released in the baggage carousel and none of the staff were willing to hear out a complaint. So yes, I wanted those changes so badly not only as an honest taxpayer but as a Filipino citizen who didn’t want to cower at the idea that foreign tourists’ first glimpse of the Philippines was a lousy international airport.
So did DoTC live up to the expectations of providing a better international airport terminal that Filipinos would be proud of? Unfortunately, the answer is one big resounding NO. Seriously, who are they trying to kid? If I could describe the so-called improvements and overhaul, I’d say NAIA 1 won a free makeover and was dressed up in the tackiest and most pretentious makeup and clothing that tried its best to conceal but failed in the biggest possible way. I didn’t even bother taking photos because there was no reason to. If you want an idea of what I’m talking about, you can check out the government’s Facebook page. Please tell me if you find anything noteworthy in those photos.
So here’s why I think NAIA 1 still (for lack of a better and more fitting term) sucks:
1. Fresh paint and new carpeting do not mean renovation. Yes, the airport was splashed a fresh coat of white paint (and still reeked of it) and lined with newly-purchased gray carpet (that needs to be vacuumed soon), but many things were still undoubtedly out of order. The air-conditioning is inconsistent, with fans and blowers found every few feet away from each other to compensate for lack of cooling throughout the building. The departure area’s ceiling attempts to be covered in a new wood panel with electrical wiring sticking out in several different places. Nothing is new with the baggage carousel that is still marked with dents from wear and tear and becomes over-crowded with passengers of long-haul flights. If this is the mark of 80% programmed works being completed, then I think we wasted taxpayers’ money in attempting to save this terminal.
2. Check-in lines are still long, hard and tough to bear just like liquorice that has gone stale. Because the counters are pre-assigned per airline, passengers have to make do with limited number of counters available for service. I don’t know how many airlines NAIA 1 has under operation so I can’t necessarily do the math but it’s bad enough to have to wait in line for more than an hour to be checked-in on your flight. Kudos, though, for having moved airlines like Cathay Pacific and Delta to NAIA 3 and lessening the congestion in the old terminal, and I do hope they move more of these out soon!
3. Flying in or out of the Philippines is not made memorable with incompetent staff… Not in a positive way, at least. Leaving the Philippines alone, I felt rudely treated by 3 different airport/airline staff — (1) lady in the travel tax cashier counter, (2) lady in the terminal fee counter and (3) gentleman in the Saudia departure gate. All three of these Filipino staff members made me feel stupid when I either asked a simple question on how much the terminal fee was (when there were no signs saying so) or when I mistakenly lined up at their designated area because there were, once again, no signs differentiating which from which. Filipinos are supposedly known for hospitality and respectfulness but these 3 people, whose names I wish I remember, were offensive and impolite. We all understand that airport security needs to be tight but that does not mean forgoing basic manners. What makes matters worse is that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are treated in a more ill-mannered way than non-OFWs. I have seen staff members speak to them as if they were stupid and lost children, but converse with foreign tourists and Expats in a cheerful and polite demeanor. Seriously, what’s the difference? Racially discriminating your own people is such a big shame!
NAIA 1 and DOTC, get your act together! How many more worst lists do we still need to top before truly fixing what needs to be fixed? Spending tons of money on bad renovations does not make anyone happy; at least do something about the air-conditioning. Train your workers to be nicer and more professional than they have ever been their entire lives because that’s what people remember most of all. I’m tired of getting anxious from Philippine tourism getting a bad rep because of one old airport. So please, Philippine government, TRULY DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
I’m no Baguio local. I can’t speak the local language, Ilocano, fluently and can only understand sentences through words that I know and make a big guess at what people are trying to say. I get it right at times, but I often look like a fool saying yes when people are asking for the time. So I guess you can say that I am a trying-hard Ilocana (a female native of the Ilocos-La Union regions); but I am proud to say that I spent most of my childhood summers (particularly the holy weeks) in Baguio City. In a way, I saw a simpler version of the city back in the 90’s to early 2000’s. It might not be the real classic and rustic version that locals get nostalgic about when they start cursing at the growing number of tourists and cut-down pine trees but I am lucky to have experienced it unfazed and uncomplicated.
Having last visited Baguio 4 years ago, I was definitely surprised at how much it has changed. From the numerous houses that now line what used to be lush mountains, tons of tourists swarming to get to either Sto. Tomas or Sagada in hopes of living the life of their idols’ characters on the screen to Koreans invading the city, slowly turning it into Koreatown. Baguio is changing. Very quickly.
Despite all the changes that have taken place, I am very glad to share that there are still many places to experience what is left of the Baguio of old. I found restaurants that cater to those who want their peace and quiet while enjoying good food (and beverage) and the cool breeze of the mountains. Even though my exploring was cut to a minimum due to family affairs, I’m happy to have had the chance to visit these three places that made me say, “Buti nalang wala masyadong tao dito!” (translated “Hooray for crowdless restos!”). Just so you know, I am no foodie, nor can I cook; I just happen to like food and enjoy eating it without too many people screaming at the top of their lungs. So, here we go!
1. Canto, Too in Arc Residences (Bakakeng)
Canto is a restaurant owned by a crazy family born and raised in the city. From a small food joint found at the corner of a building near Leonard Wood Road, Canto has grown to be one of the more popular restaurants in the city serving comfort food at its best. Most tourists flock to the Ketchup Food Community found across Wright Park for their Canto fix, but for a more laid-back and uncrowded environment, head on over to their second branch (Canto, Too) in Arc Residences. Canto, Too offers the same menu of ribs, pizza, salad and desserts as the one found in Ketchup, but serves barbecue that comes with an amazing sauce. I prefer this branch, though, because it lacks the long lines of hungry tourists. Because it is outside the city center, the place is surrounded by pine trees, sloping hills and fresh air; there are outdoor seat options, as well, to enjoy the lovely weather. I would definitely go back Canto, Too for seconds. No pun intended.
TOP TIP: The restaurant operates from lunch time till 8:00PM, so make sure to plan your visit!
Canto, Too is found in Arc Residences, 8 Bareng Drive, Bakakeng. It can be easily accessed via taxi, just tell the driver to head on over to the St. Louis University School of Business and Management. Jeepneys, which can take you back to the city center, are found near SLU.
2. Cafe de Angelo (Chapis Village)
If you’re looking for a quaint cafe that not only serves good coffee-based beverages and yummy sandwiches and pastas BUT ALSO does not have a single care if you’re wearing your pajamas from the night before and have not showered from the previous day even if you traveled all the way from Manila, then you have found your match. Believe me, I did. Cafe de Angelo is an open cafe nestled at the beautiful garden of the restaurant owners’ home. They serve healthy food options like sandwiches topped with generous amounts of alfalfa sprouts and lettuce. Their hearty menu starts at Php160 and up, and they also serve desserts like cakes and pastries. Since I have no problem with vegetables, I loved eating here but those with picky appetites might have a bit of an issue. Well, well, isn’t it about time to improve your taste palate?
TOP TIP: Since it’s a garden cafe, best to head here on a nice sunny day. I wouldn’t risk the rains, if I were you because it can get really cold in this part of town!
Cafe de Angelo is not-so-secretly-located in 54 Chapis Village, Marcos Highway. Best to take a taxi to get here since it’s quite a long walk from Marcos Highway. Once you find it, I guarantee you a sandwich haven!
3. Baguio Craft Brewery (Marcos Highway)
Need a beer to unwind after a long day of touring the city? Then, Baguio Craft Brewery is the place for you! Here, beers are brewed from the best ingredients, particularly those found in the region and are sold with a starting price of Php150 per glass. I’m no beer-drinker so I won’t pretend to know the 411 on beers but if you want to try something special, might as well down a glass of well-made craft beer. I had the Ripe beer made from passion fruit and I liked it because it was particularly sweet, made for the ladies. I tried the stronger-tasting beers for guys and I ended up with a weird face but I’m positive beer drinkers will love ’em. Food items like chicken wings and sausages are sold for Php200 and up, perfect for pairing with a cold glass of beer. I visited on a Tuesday night so I was able to experience the Brewery’s rooftop sans the beer-loving crowd, though, I bet it can get crowded during the weekends; I guess you can never enjoy beer without the company of other people… You never know, you just might make a friend out of a stranger. Cheaz to that!
TOP TIP: Visit the Brewery around 5:00-6:00PM for an awesome sunset view of Baguio. Their rooftop is definitely the coziest bar penthouse I’ve seen.
Baguio Craft Brewery is perched on the top of RKC Building, 120 Marcos Highway. Jeepneys, taxis and buses all pass through this long stretch of road.
For the record, most of the prices I declared are from memory and I wouldn’t trust my memory for now since my cousins treated me in all 3 restaurants while I ate to my heart’s content and pant size’s worry. But being located in the province, food prices of these places should be very cheap compared to those in Manila and well-worth the price you’re paying, too! So on your next road trip to Baguio City, make sure to visit these 3 awesome places and experience the Baguio that its true locals are immensely proud of.
Getting to Baguio is very convenient nowadays especially since the opening of the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway. If back in the day, traveling to the highlands takes at least half a day depending on the traffic situation, reaching the city today only takes around 4 hours tops! Heading to Baguio, I took one of the trusty Victory Liner buses in Pasay City; I would’ve wanted to ride on the Php455 bus that takes around 6 hours of travel time (because of the terminal stops and alighting passengers along the road), but given the numerous people who were also traveling up North, I ended up taking the deluxe non-stop bus for Php750. At the beginning of the trip, I was kinda hesitant to be on board the said bus because I was paying more when I could’ve paid less if I only reserved a ticket earlier on, but on hind sight, I now highly recommend taking the deluxe bus to those with flexible budgets because…
There’s a bigger leg room in the seats, allowing comfier sleeping positions.
They provide a bottle of mineral water and kinda crappy snacks, good enough to prevent you from getting hungry on the road.
It’ll take you from Manila to Baguio in 4 to 4.5 hours (depending on traffic). Not bad at all!
The trip is non-stop, passing through the North Luzon, Subic-Clark-Tarlac and Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressways in a breeze. Less time in the bus is a definite yes for me! I left Manila at 7:15AM, went through the crazy rush hour traffic but still managed to arrive in Baguio at 11:30AM, just in time for lunch!
***Some deluxe buses are tagged as first-class, meaning the seat configuration is 2-1 instead of the usual 2-2 on each side. I was lucky enough to be sitting alone, without any seatmate, which was amazing!
Disclaimer: This post is mainly suitable for females heading over to the Lasema Spa & Sauna found in Makati City. Males can read through it for guidance but may encounter an altogether different experience once there.
Ensogo, an online platform selling discounted merchandise and products, offered a 12-hour stay in Lasema for only Php450.00. The deal was inclusive of the use of dry and wet saunas, common areas, jacuzzi, shower and toiletries, towels and robes and a 1-hour massage. Being bargain fans, my friend and I didn’t pass up the chance to grab such a steal, not exactly seeing an entire picture of what we were getting into. On the onset, we knew Korean spas (locally known in Korea as jiljimbang) from all the dramas and movies we’ve watched, so our curiosities peaked at the idea of living the lives of our favorite characters.
Upon arriving, presenting our vouchers and being handed out our robes, towels and locker keys, we were instructed to remove our shoes prior to heading over to the locker area. Incidentally, we found lockers beside the reception; thinking that that was it, we took off our shoes, left our bags and tried to lock our chosen slots. After several attempts and eventually deciding to give up, the security guard told us that those weren’t the lockers for us, but right ones were located inside the women’s area. Laughing over our first 5 minutes of foolishness and wondering what else we would mistakenly do for the next few hours, we entered the real locker room. Thus began the mantra… “There’s always a first time.”.
Ladies (and gentlemen on some cases), to avoid looking like complete imbeciles on your first trip to Lasema, I give you my Ultimate Top Tips for the Jiljimbang Virgin:
1. Visit on a weekday morning – To maximize your purchase, arrive a little after breakfast. We reserved a slot for a Friday morning to avoid the crowd and that is what we exactly did. We stayed for almost 7 hours and only saw 10 female and 4 male customers during the entire course of our stay; and because of that, there was a lot of space to breathe in, relax and unwind. Imagine going there on a weekend (or on a weeknight when all corporate slaves would go) to find families or friends coming in big groups. Definitely defeats the whole purpose of relaxing.
2. Bring your necessities – Lasema provides the sex-specific robes (for use once inside the common areas) and two medium-sized towels. These towels are just enough to wrap around the head and wipe the sweat off, but if you’re looking for something to wrap around the body after showering, they don’t do the trick. If you don’t feel like going commando, bring a large towel for drying up; otherwise, the Lasema ones would do. Toiletries like shampoo, soap, lotion, alcohol and cotton (and blow-dryers, if I may add) are also provided free-of-charge in the locker area, but if you happen to be brand-conscious, might as well bring your own supply. Speaking of the locker area…
3. Nakedness is next to… You – I cannot stress enough on this… You will see a lot of naked bodies. For the record, robes are only stripped once inside the wet areas of the men and women’s locker rooms; you’ll find the showers, jacuzzi and wet sauna here. Customers are STRICTLY ADVISED to be naked (towels included) and to tie their hair up while using the jacuzzi. Personally, I tried the jacuzzi and the wet sauna; at first, I did feel a bit awkward walking around and sitting in a hot pool of tea naked, but eventually, forgot all about it and allowed myself to relax and literally strip off my inhibitions. I highly recommend you do this. Like traditional jiljimbangs, standing and seating showers are provided for those who don’t mind bearing it all out. You might be wondering, “If I don’t want to strip naked in front of other people, can I still take a shower?”. No need to worry, there 3 shower stalls with doors for those who value their privacy.
Additional Tip: While people are required to wear robes in the common areas, a big question is posed: Are customers required to wear underwear, too? Technically, if you watch Korean shows, Koreans forgo these because the sweat gets absorbed and germs and toxins are trapped in the nether regions. If you’re not too keen on wearing only the robes, have extra cotton underwear that you would usually use during workouts.
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, HYDRATE – Three hot saunas can be found in the common areas, each with its own temperature and effect on the body. These are the Oak & Clay, Salt & Charcoal and Chungito saunas. As first timers, we were advised to try out the saunas in 5-minute intervals — meaning enter one sauna and stay for 5 minutes (there’s an hourglass timer inside), leave and hydrate with water, then enter another sauna after a 5-minute rest. We started with the Salt & Charcoal Sauna and ended with the Chungito.
The Salt & Charcoal was a bit painful due to the stones. At first, we could barely step on them because they were hot and sharp but we saw Koreans comfortably lying down on it; so we tried it ourselves and eventually enjoyed the heat on our backs. Even so, our legs and feet were still a bit too sensitive to the heat because of the direct contact with the stones so we kept them up the entire time and kinda looked liked we were giving birth.
My personal favorite was the Oak & Clay because of the woody scent we inhaled upon entering. The mats were also comfortable for lying or sitting down and the room temperature was just right, just like Baby Bear’s porridge.
But nothing prepared us for the heat from the Chungito. Given that they bake eggs here, imagine the heat inside the dome! I only managed a minute on my first try with a towel covering my face because the heat was so hot that it was painful! Ayee only managed 20 seconds; yes, it was really that intense! But seeing how sweaty I was after (and I don’t mean just beads of sweat; I mean sweaty water rolling down from every part of my body imaginable), I figured I should try it again and again because it was perfect for detoxification. I managed two 5-minute tries later during the day and enjoyed roasting myself to perfection.
When we exited the Chungito, we made our way to the Ice Room to literally cool off. At temperatures less than 0 deg. cel., the room functions to bring the body temperature and heart rate back to normal. I saw actual steam coming out not just from my breath but from my skin, as well, just like those characters from Dragon Ball Z when they’re about to do some crazy powerful fighting moves.
Top Tip: Really take your time in using all the saunas, that’s why the advised stay in Lasema is 12 hours. It’s not enough to enter all the rooms just once because the body would still be very sensitive to heat; after entering the rooms several times, you’d find yourself sweating more effectively, finding the heat less painful and enjoying the experience. Just don’t end up sleeping in any of the rooms; if you do plan to snooze for a bit, make sure to bring a companion with you to wake you up because you wouldn’t want to end up like a dried fish when you wake up. And again, every single time you leave a sauna, you have to hydrate with lots and lots of water because it’s easy to fall into intense dehydration and to pass out if you’re not too careful. Water dispensers are found inside the locker rooms and can be used for free; you can bring your own water bottle and have it refilled so that you won’t have to make a purchase anymore.
Additional Tip: The whole purpose of the visit is to relax and unwind. Even though it’s highly recommended that you enter the saunas several times, you also need to give your body its much-needed rest. There are sleeping caves provided to those who want to lie down or take a nap. There’s no time limit as to how long you should rest, but do take your time.
5. Massage 101 – Massage sessions are reserved depending on your preferred time. Have yours scheduled soon as you enter the common room; just head on over to the massage counter (found near the food stand). The best time would be around the 2nd-half of your stay when you’ve gone through all the hot saunas and eaten a good meal. Take note, though, that the massage rooms are not privatized. Each room can hold from as little as 1 to 6 people at the most at a given time. If you’re lucky, you can have the room all to yourself and not feel so shy about removing your clothes, but on a crowded hour, don’t expect too much. For women, bras should be removed but panties can still be worn.
The 1-hour massage was one of the best parts of the stay because the massage therapists really knew what they were doing. My therapist targeted my back as it was the most tense part of my body, but she didn’t neglect the other muscles. I was delightfully surprised to also get a semi-foot scrub at the end of the session. Talk about full body massage! If you enjoyed your massage, do give a generous tip to your therapist afterwards.
6. Get ready to eat Korean food – Lasema only serves Korean food. There’s a restaurant conveniently connected to the spa, and guess what, it also serves Korean food! Being a fan of which, this wasn’t a big deal for me; but if you don’t exactly enjoy this cuisine, please give it a try even if just for a day. Why? For one, you don’t have a choice since you can’t bring food in. Another reason is that their food is high in nutrients and is good for detoxification; kimchi, alone, is the perfect proof of this.
We feasted on ramen (Php150.00), mandu (similar to the Chinese dimsum, Php150.00), roasted eggs (Php15.00 each) and iced shikhye (ginger juice, similar to the Philippines’ salabat, Php100.00). All meals come with kimchi and egg-drop soup. Word of caution: The ramen can get very spicy so ask the food attendant to adjust the spiciness level to your liking.
TIME: 0330 — Woke up by my alarm clock. Took a shower, brushed my teeth and packed my pink backpack. Wanted to keep it light because I didn’t want to carry too much as I was traveling solo.
TIME: 0415 — Left my inn and traveled via tricycle to the Ceres Bus Terminal. Paid Php10.00 for a trip that took no longer than 10 minutes.
TIME: 0445 — Departed the Ceres Bus Terminal on board the bus heading to Bais City. Trips to Manjuyod or Bacolod could’ve worked, as well. Sat near the window, convincing myself I could manage the cold wind blowing through a small opening. Eventually realized I was a fool for thinking so and closed the big window, instead. Endured sitting beside a sleepy girl whose bony head kept on hitting my shoulder. Paid Php51.00 for an hour and 20 minute trip.
TIME: 0615 — Met Mrs. Pancho, wife of Mr. Jesus Pancho (my boatman for the day), near the market place. Hailed a tricycle and stopped by the nearest gas station to get some gasoline for the boat. Paid Php50.00 for the special tricycle trip to the Bais Port.
TIME: 0630 — Rode the white bangka (outrigger canoe) that could comfortably fit 8-10 people. Set-off for the sea to meet the dolphins. Morning sleepiness was instantly defeated by the most beautiful sunrise I’ve seen my entire life. Transferred to the front end of the boat to get a better view of the scenery.
TIME: 0658 — Spotted my first group of dolphins. Almost cried for joy, but shrieked like a teenager seeing One Direction in the flesh. Boat drew closer to the dolphins and they decided to play around, as well. First time to be within a few feet from wild dolphins. Sentiment: Absolute bliss.
TIME: 0711 — Almost fell off the boat due to mildly strong waves coming in from almost all directions. Note to self: Waterproof and foolproof all gadgets in the next dolphin date. Idiocy and embarrassment were slightly forgotten upon seeing spinner dolphins showing off at a distance. Awestruck turned to panic so no photos of the spectacle were taken. Thankfully, black spotted dolphins felt my disappointment and decided to cheer me up.
TIME: 0723 — Bid dolphins goodbye. Fortunately for me but unfortunately for others, the waves grew stronger that dolphin-seeking boats with scaredy-cat passengers who came after could not go farther, therefore, not finding any dolphins. Headed over to Manjuyod Sandbar for sunbathing and relaxation.
TIME: 0741 — Passed by houses on stilts in the middle of the sea. Found out you can rent the place for the night for a fee. Bring food, water and other essentials and electricity runs for only a few hours. Ummm, maybe next time?
TIME: 0756 — Arrived in the Manjuyod Sandbar to find it untouched since the day started. Explored the ‘island’ and found a spot perfect for roasting myself.
TIME: 0811 — Realized I wasn’t alone as I thought and made a few friends, possibly related to Patrick Star.
TIME: 0901 — Hung out with Kuya Jesus (kuya is big brother in Filipino). Found out he used to work in the shipping industry, then bought himself a boat and never looked back. Been playing cupid between tourists and dolphins for years and became one of the most popular boatmen in Bais City. He has 8 children (6 of which are still working) and 4 grandchildren and lives in an island off the coast of Bais.
TIME: 0927 — Roasted myself to perfection under the warm heat of the sun. Gave myself a foot spa with the coarse sand known for clean and uncontaminated beaches. Settled for corn chips and water for breakfast but realized I should’ve bought bread for the trip since no one sells food or drinks in the middle of the sea. Saw 2 boats docking in the sandbar and decided to leave the sandbar for others to enjoy (since they missed out on the dolphins). Headed over to a shallow reef section for snorkeling.
TIME: 0955 — Arrived at the snorkeling area, not knowing what I was getting into. Having forgotten to pack my goggles in the pink backpack, Kuya Jesus offered his goggles made of wood, which he called muro ami (reef hunter). Hit the water, shocked by the cold and strong waves. Wearing the life vest wasn’t very effective so he decided to wrap it around me, instead, like pigs in a blanket. Kuya swam around while carrying the floundering me, pointing to wonderful sea creatures and reefs. Drank sea water.
TIME: 1013 — Played with Nemo or possibly Merlin. Avoided scary-looking sea urchins. Freaked out over brain-like reef. Panicked because of the waves. Drank sea water. More of it.
TIME: 1027 — Returned to the boat, happy as a clown fish. Took a photo with the giant starfish with very sharp thorns. Returned the star fish in the sea.
TIME: 1040 — Headed over to Kuya Jesus’ house to rinse off the sea water. He was accommodating enough to lend me soap since I forgot to pack toiletries, as well. After drying off, realized I did not have a decent change of clothes to wear. Another note to self: Not because you’re traveling solo do you have to forgo basics like soap, undies and the like.
TIME: 1110 — Rode the white bangka going back to the Bais Port. Took a snapshot of Kuya Jesus, amazed at how accommodating he was the entire trip. He could’ve served lunch in the boat but due to miscommunication with his daughter Jen (who manages the tours), lunch was cancelled. Was looking forward to watching him grill food at the back of the boat and eating in the middle of the bay. Maybe next time.
TIME: 1126 — Arrived in Bais Port. Rinsed my feet with the clean water he had in the boat. Paid Mrs. Pancho Php2,000.00 (plus Php500.00 to Jen as booking fee) for the entire tour date. Couldn’t end the morning without a photo with Kuya Jesus, his assistant and the bangka I had come to love.
TIME: 1130 — Left Bais Port, riding a tricycle, and went back to the town center to catch bus for Dumaguete City. Paid Php50.00, again, for the special trip and Php51.00 for the bus ride back to the city. Hungry and tired as ever but fulfilled and blessed as could ever be.
You may contact Jen Pancho through the following contact numbers: +63917-7045575, +63935-8623595. You’ll be more than happy with Kuya Jesus’ touring services and how he takes care of his customers. I guarantee it! Also, you can spot dolphins at any time of the day; it really depends on how patient the boatman is in finding them. Kuya Jesus can help you find them from morning to sunset, just don’t be afraid of the waves. Lastly, if you don’t have any food with you, you can arrange for lunch to be set up by the Pancho Family; for Php250.00, you can have lunch in the sea (viand, rice, and drinks). I’d take that if I were you.